Protect’s Lucy Letby Statement: Time to review how whistleblowing is dealt with in the NHS
Our thoughts are with the families whose lives have been torn apart by the despicable crimes of Lucy Letby. We welcome the Government’s inquiry so that improvements can be made to the system, including how concerns are raised and addressed.
We know now that senior staff had raised concerns about a link between Letby and baby deaths and injuries over a long period. Despite some initial investigations, their ongoing concerns were not acted on quickly enough by senior managers and there appears to have been a slowness or reluctance to involve the Police in investigating the deaths.
No one likes to receive bad news, or to believe that a nurse could be murdering babies. Yet whistleblowers offered a window for swift action to be taken which was not seized upon. A failure to act on concerns is a common problem we see at Protect. So far this year 40% of NHS whistleblowers who have contacted Protect’s legal helpline for advice say their concerns were ignored when they raised them.
The independent inquiry should put the families devastated by these horrific crimes at the centre of its work, but we think there should also be space to examine whistleblowing across the health service. Whistleblowing is key to safeguarding patient safety and the opportunity to improve whistleblowing in the NHS should not be missed.
The inquiry promises to look at how concerns raised by clinicians were dealt with. We want the terms of reference to include leadership and accountability of senior managers in ensuring that whistleblowers are not ignored. The Nursing Director has now been suspended, but others may also share responsibility for failures at the trust.
It is senior managers who set the tone and whistleblowers will not come forward if they fear reprisal or if they believe it is futile to do so. It is managers who need to be held to account when they fail to act on concerns or victimise whistleblowers.
Ten years after the Francis Review, it is time to review if whistleblowing is working in the NHS. Too many scandals reveal that staff knew that there was something wrong but were afraid to speak up or were ignored. Every inquiry promises that lessons will be learned so the awful events cannot happen again. They can, and they do. Events of the magnitude of this case are extremely rare, but effective whistleblowing can stop harm soonest.